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“There was a star danced, and under that was I born” – illustrations of Much Ado About Nothing’s Beatrice

Enjoy illustrations of one of Shakespeare's greatest heroines from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library.

Shelley Bushman

Quick-witted, charming, and unexpectedly melancholic, Beatrice paved the way for generations of fierce women thinkers and romantic comedy heroines. After hours of poring through every edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works and Much Ado About Nothing we were delighted at the array of lights in which Beatrice is depicted.

If you’d like a quick Much Ado refresher before jumping in, check out this play summary!

Beatrice Macmillan Modern Shakespeare (1983)
Macmillan modern Shakespeare (1983)

“I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”
- Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, Scene 1

At the opening of Much Ado About Nothing we meet Beatrice, a quick-witted spinster who is out of patience for inconstant men. (She swears she won’t marry until “God make men of some other metal than earth.” Ouch.) In this 1983 London print, Beatrice looks mid-”skirmish of wit” with Benedick, an officer she can’t stand. (Don’t worry, it’s mutual.) Check out that side-eye and slightest wry smile.

Much Ado About Nothing Cover
Much ado about nothing (2012)

“Speak low if you speak love”
- Prince, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 2 Scene 1

Beatrice and Benedick rendezvous at a masked ball where Beatrice, not recognizing her dance partner, tells Benedick to his face that he’s a buffoon. Benedick walks away insulted, later saying he’d rather be anywhere in the world than with “this harpee.” Double ouch.

This American edition is the youngest on the list (2007) and is absolutely gorgeous - layered coloured cutouts create intricate visuals that capture the uniquely Shakespearian magic of veiled identities and falling in love.

Beatrice Plays of William Shakespeare
The plays of William Shakespeare edited and annotated by Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke (1884)

“But are you sure that Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely?”
“So says the Prince and my new trothed-lord.”
Hero & Ursula, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 3 Scene 1

Beatrice's and Benedick’s friends decide they’d make a great match, despite their mutual mudslinging. In one of the best unexpected wingwoman moves of all time, Beatrice’s friends, Hero and Ursula, stage a fake conversation about Benedick’s unrequited love for Beatrice where they know she can eavesdrop. The same “trap” is laid for Benedick, and the “traps” are laid. The beautiful flowing gowns are a highlight of this 1886 London edition. We can only hope Beatrice’s gown doesn’t get caught in all that foliage.

Beatrice Much Ado About Nothing (1976)
Much Ado About Nothing (1976)

“There’s little of the melancholy element in her, my lord. She is never sad but when she sleeps, and not ever sad then, for I have heard my daughter say she hath often dreamed of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing.”
- Leonato, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 2 Scene 1

This illustration from this 1976 edition catches Beatrice in a quieter moment. Although usually outgoing, charming, and carefree, off-hand comments (i.e. “once before he won [my heart] from me with false dice”) display a pensive underbelly from the face she usually shows the world.

Beatrice Heroines of Shakespeare (1848)
Heroines of Shakespeare (1848)

“Contempt, farewell, and maiden pride, adieu! No glory lives behind the back of such. And Benedick, love on; I will requite thee.”
- Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 3 Scene 1

This portrait is out of The Heroines of Shakespeare, (1848)  a compilation of illustrations depicting Shakespeare’s female protagonists. Beatrice looks pleasantly caught off-guard, as if called back to reality mid-thought. 

Beatrice Shakespeare in Dutch
De Werken van William Shakespeare (1888)

“Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?”
“Yea, and I will weep a while longer.
“I will not desire that.”
- Benedick & Beatrice, Act 4 Scene 1

This 1888 Dutch edition depicts one of the most unabashedly romantic scenes Shakespeare ever wrote: Act 4, Scene 1 of Much Ado About Nothing. Heightened emotions from Hero and Claudio’s disastrous wedding ceremony boil over, and Beatrice and Benedick finally confess their love for one another. This drawing details the delicate affection of that scene.

Much Ado in Hebrew
Much ado about nothing in Hebrew (1964)

“I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will”
“In spite of your heart, I think. Alas, poor heart, if you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for yours, for I will never love that which my friend hates.”
“Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.”
- Benedick & Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 5 Scene 2

The beautifully bold color blocking is what earned this 1965 Hebrew edition of Much Ado a spot on this list. The way Beatrice and Benedick are posed, they could be staring into each others’ eyes, or attempting to out-wit each other, as usual. Who’s to say?

Much Ado About Nothing Fritz Kredel
Much Ado About Nothing (1939/40)

“A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts. Come, I will have thee, but by this light I take thee for pity.”
“I would not deny you, but, by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption.”
- Benedick & Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 5 Scene 4

This edition from the late 1930s illustrates the play’s happy ending: Claudio & Hero and Beatrice & Benedick finally embrace amid family and friends, having resolved all previous obstacles and misunderstandings. The characters are depicted as they’re supposed to be: on stage! The bluescale is a lovely touch on an atypical drawing.

Beatrice Chinese Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing in Chinese (1953)

“He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.”
- Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 2 Scene 1

Engaging, tenacious, and the unexpected ingenue: Beatrice isn’t a passive or delicate bystander. As an active agent in her own life, she sticks up for those she cares about (Hero,) makes her own choices, and can “dish it” just as well as she can “take it.” 

Unlike other Shakespearian heroines, love and companionship were not on Beatrice’s agenda. Nevertheless, she chooses to add Benedick into her life, living “as merry as the day is long.”

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